Modified on: 01/02/2023
Year after year its use is increasing, also driven by decriminalization or legalization policies that more and more states are adopting and by the growing spread of legal cannabis
According to the annual report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), cannabis remains firmly at the top of the list of the most commonly used drugs in the world.
This despite the rise of new psychoactive substances, such as “spice”, which is a synthetic cannabinoid.
Not only is cannabis firmly at the top of the rankings, but its spread around the world has also grown.
The boom in cannabis derivatives, which has led to an exponential expansion in the supply of cannabis products in recent years, has probably increased their popularity.
So let us look at the countries with the highest population penetration rate.
UN statistics on cannabis use
Before seeing which countries are at the top of the consumption ranking, it is necessary to make a premise.
It is not so easy to make this classification, because in most states of the world cannabis use remains illegal and Therefore, the data provided by individual nations refer to estimates that might be inaccurate and that in reality could vary greatly.
In addition, the data analyzed in this article have been obtained from different research methodologies and from different sources.
With these premises, when looking at the list of the top ten countries for global use, it is immediately noted that the Netherlands is not present, as would have been expected, as they were the first in Europe to tolerate cannabis use.
It is curious that they are only in the 35° place of the classification, having a penetration on the scarce population (8%) and decidedly lower than in the countries of the top ten.
At this point it is interesting to note that the additional resources accumulated by the Dutch Government through the taxation of these products are generally used to combat drug addiction.
This would explain why cannabis use in the Netherlands has remained stable over time, unlike other Western countries, where it has grown over the last ten years.
Top 10 countries where most cannabis is consumed in the world
On the podium of the list of the world’s top marijuana consuming countries are Chile (35%), Papua New Guinea (30%) and Canada (27%), tied with Israel.
What is surprising here is that there does not seem to be a direct relationship between legislation and consumption figures. It should be pointed out, in fact, that while in Chile and Canada the consumption and cultivation of cannabis is permitted for both therapeutic and recreational purposes, in contrast in Papua New Guinea and the State of Israel it is forbidden, although evidently tolerated.
To be precise, the policy in Israel is to prohibit its recreational use, but to encourage its therapeutic use (the Minister of Health can assess on a case-by-case basis whether to allow cannabis for medical use).
At the bottom of the list, i.e. in 10th place, is the United States with a population consumption rate of 16%.
This figure must be taken with a grain of salt, however, because we are talking about numbers that are not up-to-date and, in recent years, several American states have legalised cannabis.
It must also be said, however, that regulations in the United States can change from country to country, although marijuana use is federally prohibited.
As far as Italy is concerned, it is not in the top ten; globally, it holds 14th position with a penetration of almost 15%. Thus, we are talking about a percentage similar to that of the United States and double that of the Netherlands.
Top 10 countries with the highest cannabis use in Europe
Restricting the field to Europe, the Czech Republic (15%) ranks first in terms of cannabis use, followed by Italy (14.6%) and Spain (10.6%).
As regards the orientation of national legislation, it should be noted that in the Czech Republic and Spain cannabis for medical use is legal and personal consumption of small quantities is decriminalized. On the contrary, in Italy it is forbidden to consume and grow them.
At the bottom of the list of European countries are Switzerland and Austria, with 3.4% and 3.5%, respectively.
Even in Austria, the personal use of cannabis is decriminalized, although the sale of cannabis remains illegal and punishable as a criminal offence. In Switzerland, however, only cannabis derivatives with a THC concentration of less than 1% are legal.
Lastly, Malta’s position should be noted, which, with a population penetration rate of 4.5 per cent, is also at the bottom of the list. Despite this, Malta has recently legalized cannabis (December 2021) and may be considered the first European country to legalize it for recreational use.
In conclusion, we have seen which countries have the highest consumption in the world and in Europe.
As already stated, the numbers considered should be taken into account only partial and indicative. These data do not take into account national policies adopted by each country, which may be more or less lenient or, on the contrary, repressive.
Not only does the widespread spread of cannabis in the world emerge from the chart, but also a shift in orientation by many States that have embarked on a more pragmatic policy.